November 8, 2013
Politically Adrift, Algeria Clings to Its Old Ways
By CARLOTTA GALL
ALGIERS — Algeria seems stuck in a state of limbo.
The 76-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 14 years into his tenure, has not addressed the nation in more than a year and is chair-bound since suffering a stroke in April. Since then, he has held just three meetings with foreign dignitaries. Outside a tight circle, no one is even sure if he still speaks. Still, the ruling National Liberation Front, clinging to stability in a chaotic region, is backing Mr. Bouteflika for a fourth term in presidential elections set for April.
Before a postponement was announced because of the Iran nuclear negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to visit here on Sunday, but it was not clear that he would have met the president. Mr. Kerry’s mission to persuade this critical strategic partner — with vast oil wealth, a powerful army and intelligence service, and experience in fighting Islamic terrorism — to take a more assertive role in the region will be no easy task.
“Algeria should be a big actor in this part of the world, but it is not playing its role,” Ihsane el-Kadi of Maghreb Emergent, an online business publication, said in an interview. “It is still a closed country.”
Indeed, critics and other observers say the generation of leaders who won Algeria’s independence from France in 1962 and still run the country half a century later will continue to resist any change. A civil war against Islamic extremists in the 1990s — at the cost of about 200,000 lives — has left the population wary of change, too. The result has been that a variety of problems, like a prostrate economy and declining levels of education, have been left to fester and now threaten to undermine the country’s future and even eventual stability.
The government’s paralysis is among the most apparent symptoms of the nation’s malaise and of the leadership’s wariness of political transition. Just how the country is run, and by whom, is so opaque that diplomats and journalists say they are reduced to an Algerian version of Kremlin watching.
A clutch of army generals, intelligence officials and aides, including Saïd Bouteflika, the president’s brother, surrounds the president, and only loyalists are promoted. Algerians, generally, do not talk of government in this still largely Francophone country, but rather refer simply to it as “le pouvoir” — or the power.
Since January, when Algeria experienced firsthand the lawlessness spreading anew from neighboring Libya when Islamists seized hostages at the gas plant at In Amenas in the south, the government has stepped up security along its borders and American interest in security cooperation to combat Al Qaeda’s spread across North Africa has increased.
“We took the decision to strengthen our borders,” said Amara Benyounes, the minister of industrial development and investment. “It is costing us a lot, but is important. We are condemned to be very vigilant.”
But some here warn that, on the domestic front at least, the government has shown a surfeit of vigilance against political and economic opening as social tensions and sporadic rioting keep building. Despite Algeria’s oil wealth, residents complain of inflation, rising crime and a lack of opportunity. Economists bemoan economic stagnation and stifling bureaucracy that make Algeria one of the most difficult places to do business.
There are frequent strikes, and localized riots flare up constantly all over the country. Unemployment, officially 10 percent, is in reality closer to 30 percent, according to Rachid Tlemcani, professor in international politics and regional security at the University of Algiers. The police recorded 11,000 riots or outbreaks of public unrest of some kind in 2011, he said. Since then the trend has grown uglier. “In the past these riots were more or less under control, but it is reaching the point where no one is controlling them,” Professor Tlemcani said.
Ahmed Benbitour, a former prime minister and presidential contender, warns of trouble among the middle classes, too. “We have 1.5 million students at university,” he said. “Each year 300,000 graduates come on to the jobs market. Can we create 300,000 jobs?”
He said the country was “heading toward an explosion.”
Government ministers insist that Algerians — still traumatized from a civil war that was in many ways a harbinger of the chaos that has roiled the country’s neighbors since the Arab Spring — do not want experiments. And most Algeria watchers say that with or without Mr. Bouteflika, the system of power will not be derailed.
“The country is not run by one man, it is a group of people,” a Western diplomat said, speaking on the usual diplomatic condition of anonymity. But how long the leadership can continue to buy social peace without political change may be the most pressing question facing the country.
Demonstrations are not permitted in the capital, and police enforcement is strong. The government commonly answers the rioting — over electricity, jobs and other services usually in outlying suburbs or other cities — through payouts to public sector workers, subsidies, and programs to support entrepreneurs and small businesses. When the unemployed recently began organizing in the south, the government offered some of the angry young men jobs with the police.
The government similarly manages the news media and political scene — allowing multiparty politics but manipulating the opposition, co-opting some and undermining others. The main Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, which swept the 1992 elections, remains outlawed. Other Islamists have been offered inducements to participate in legislative and local elections that few believe are free or fair.
Sensing the mood, some opposition figures are cautiously preparing to challenge Mr. Bouteflika at the polls. Political parties must harness the glaring sense of injustice or see chaos take hold anew, they say.
The old-line rulers have nothing in common with the younger generation, whose members are often better educated and have traveled abroad, said Soufiane Djalil, who last year registered a new political party, Jil Jadid, or New Generation. “People of 20, 30 and 40 do not have the same vision,” he said in an interview. “There is a whole new generation that still does not know its strength but it has an extraordinary power.”
Like everyone, it will await the political succession and word from Mr. Bouteflika, who has not been heard to speak since a two-month hospitalization in France. “Since he went to Paris in April,” Professor Tlemcani said, “no one has heard his voice.”
November 8, 2013
Syrians on Both Sides of the War Increasingly See Assad as Likely to Stay
By ANNE BARNARD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A growing number of Syrians on both sides of their country’s conflict, along with regional analysts and would-be mediators, are demanding new strategies to end the civil war, based on what they see as an inescapable new reality: President Bashar al-Assad is staying in office, at least for now.
They say the insistence from the United States-backed opposition that Mr. Assad must go before peace talks can begin is outdated, failing to reflect the situation on the ground. Rather, they say, a deal to end or ease the violence must involve Mr. Assad and requires more energetic outreach to members of his government and security forces, with concrete proposals and reassurances that could bring compromise.
They also contend that the American-backed exile opposition coalition that remains at the center of Washington’s policy has little relevance and no respect from combatants on either side. These critics of American policy say that the United States and its coalition ally are helping guarantee that diplomacy remains paralyzed as Syrians die.
On Friday, the exile coalition declared it would not attend a meeting in Moscow that would have brought it together with Syrian government officials for the first time, albeit to focus narrowly on addressing Syria’s deepening humanitarian crisis. The sticking point: Moscow also invited Assad opponents who are more willing to compromise.
The critics say there is no indication that Mr. Assad is headed for imminent defeat; indeed, he seems to be increasing his grip on parts of the country. So they are reluctantly embracing a scaled-down goal of a transitional government that in the medium term includes Mr. Assad.
The best hope, they say, is to gradually blunt the violence in a Syria that will long remain divided among areas dominated by jihadist fighters, more-moderate elements of the opposition and a transitional government.
Changing course is urgent, the critics say, because as the prospects for the peace talks in Geneva recede, Syria is falling apart. In the north, extremist jihadist groups are terrorizing residents, clashing with rival rebels and establishing a base that poses threats beyond Syria’s borders. Hunger and disease are on the rise. Polio is resurgent. More than nine million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, the equivalent, by percentage of the population, of more than 100 million Americans on the move.
“There is a sense of surreality” to United States policy, said Ryan C. Crocker, a former ambassador to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and now the dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. “ ‘Assad must go.’ Well, Assad isn’t going to go.”
Mr. Crocker and others say the current approach fails to capitalize on a growing center of Syrians exhausted by the war who have lost their enthusiasm for either side and fear that Syria is becoming a failed state.
Dozens of interviews with a broad spectrum of Syrians across the country bear out the growth of such a group, who often call themselves the “gray” middle. Many complain that no one represents them in what has become, like the Lebanese civil war that dragged on for 15 years, an international proxy war that extremists and profiteers on both sides have a vested interest in prolonging.
In interviews on opposite ends of West Beirut in recent days, two Syrians from opposite sides of the conflict — an antigovernment activist married to a rebel commander and a government supporter with ties to members of the security establishment — expressed similar feelings: a passionate love of Syria and a desire to end the destruction and killing.
They proposed opposite compromise solutions. The rebel’s wife said Mr. Assad could stay as long as the security forces were completely overhauled. The government supporter called for replacing Mr. Assad, but keeping the core of the military and security leadership in place.
Several people familiar with the official diplomacy say that Western diplomats have quietly met recently with one or two Syrian officials and government-connected figures, but have offered them little of substance.
“The best thing the West is offering Assad now is a cell in The Hague,” said Randa Slim, a research fellow at the New America Foundation and a scholar at the Middle East Institute, who is closely following official and unofficial efforts for dialogue, referring to the location of the International Criminal Court. But any deal, she said, “is bound to involve people with blood on their hands.”
“There are no saints in wars,” she continued.
While American officials have subtly modified their tone, saying Mr. Assad has “lost his legitimacy,” rather than demanding outright that he step down, analysts say the officials have not articulated a vision that acknowledges the tenacity of Mr. Assad’s government, the toothlessness of the exile coalition or Syrians’ growing misgivings over the ascendance of jihadist insurgents who have sought to impose religious rule on areas they control.
In the meantime, others are stepping into the vacuum. Russia is moving forward with plans to host the meeting in Moscow with a broader array of opposition figures — some of them controversial — than just the coalition.
In a sign that the Obama administration’s strategy may be shifting, however, a spokeswoman for the exile opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, Bayan al-Khatib, said Wednesday that American officials had encouraged the coalition to attend, and that some members were considering it. They were apparently overruled.
Other quiet attempts are being made to set up unofficial talks, some with State Department backing. In one last month that did not involve the Americans, Abdullah al-Dardari, who was ousted from the Syrian government in 2011 and is now a United Nations official, held a meeting in Beirut of about 170 Syrians from opposing sides in the conflict.
The meeting, several participants said, included midlevel, technocratic government officials; religious and business figures; prominent members of the nonviolent opposition; and at least two rebel fighters from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, one of whom boasted that he had shot down two helicopters. The official agenda was to discuss the eventual reconstruction of Syria, but the underlying goal was to seek common ground.
One participant described a coffee-break conversation between a woman who had been jailed for antigovernment political activities and a government supporter. Both considered their primary enemy to be the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a foreign-dominated jihadist organization.
The Assad supporter’s face brightened with surprise, the participant said, when the activist declared that given a choice between Mr. Assad’s government and the jihadists, she would choose the government — an increasingly common sentiment among civilian activists.
The government supporter who was interviewed in West Beirut, who speaks often to senior military and security figures, said some of them would be open to a future without Mr. Assad if a transitional government included “somebody they can accept” — they mentioned Rifaat al-Assad, a former military commander and exiled uncle of President Assad — and if it prevented the collapse of the security forces.
He said President Assad might be persuaded to preside over a transition and then decline to run for re-election, allowing him to claim that he saved Syria from jihadists and led it to democracy.
The wife of the rebel commander said that her husband’s fighters could accept Mr. Assad’s remaining for a while if other demands were met. She acknowledged they were among the insurgency’s most pragmatic figures and committed to pluralism. They are from Yabroud, an ethnically mixed town where civilian activists provide local services under rebel rule.
“The point is not Assad but the security system,” she said, adding that the exile coalition had lost touch with Syrian suffering. “If they want to help us, they should accept this solution.”
She said the United States should arrange talks and push for a confidence-building deal: a monthlong cease-fire in which rebels would stop shelling government positions in exchange for the release of political prisoners, especially women and children, and the delivery of humanitarian aid to blockaded areas.
To numerous analysts and Syrian centrists, the best-case outlook now is a transitional government that includes Mr. Assad and opposition figures, a gradual process of change that includes a new constitution and transparent elections, and agreement that he will eventually step down by declining to run for re-election.
“My view, which causes fear and loathing throughout Washington,” Mr. Crocker, the former ambassador, said, “is we really need to be making more of an effort to talk to regime people,” as well as to form direct contacts with insurgents and their supporters inside Syria.
Hwaida Saad and Mohammad Ghannam contributed reporting.
Rio begins 1,000-day countdown to Olympics with a blast
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 8, 2013 19:40 EST
Rio marked 1000 days to the 2016 Olympics by starting the impending countdown with a blast, dynamiting the entrance to a tunnel to the new Transolimpica expressway which will link the city centre with future Games sites.
Organising Committee president Carlos Arthur Nuzman and Rio governor Sergio Cabral were on hand to push the button to detonate the blast as the host city took a spectacular step towards launching the 23km-long expressway which will help to link four competition zones.
Organisers say the first ever Games to be held in South America are all about providing the city with a lasting infrastructural as well as sporting legacy and Nuzman warmed to the theme, telling reporters: “This construction is of historic and fundamental importance in providing a legacy for the people.”
Brazil has in recent months been racked by protests with many residents of the giant nation of some 200 million complaining that the combined estimated $30bn cost of staging next year’s World Cup in 12 cities and the Olympics thereafter is too great to bear and the money would be better spent on social projects.
There are also fears that the country will struggle to revamp sagging infrastructure on time.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) coordination teams have made five visits to Rio already, and recognised steady progress.
But just a month ago Brazilian press reported that a national auditing office check on Games finances showed preparations behind schedule with earmarked state cash largely unspent.
In addition, the Games budget has still to be unveiled.
The original budget at the time of Rio’s winning bid in 2009 was $2.8 billion, but many analysts say it is likely to top $4 billion with a capital budget of around three times that.
But Nuzman said Thursday that he was “absolutely confident all the construction projects will be delivered in the expected timespan.”
IOC chief Thomas Bach told AFP late Thursday he believed Rio has already come a long way and is optimistic the city will prove an excellent host.
“One thousand days remain until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games begin and young athletes across Brazil and around the world are dreaming about being part of this great celebration of sport,” he said.
“The Rio Games have inspired those young sports people, as well as many others, who see and understand the benefits that these Games will bring the citizens of the host city and Brazil long after the 17 days of competition have ended.
“These benefits include improvements in the city in terms of transport, infrastructure and social housing, and a considerable sporting legacy for Brazil.
“The 2016 organisers have already accomplished a lot, with more to come, and we look forward to seeing Rio?s project develop, as venues are delivered, test events begin, and the excitement grows across the country, helping to spread the Olympic values even further.”
Saturday marks the start of the 1,000 day countdown to the 2016 Games.
Update: The headline has been corrected for this story
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
November 9, 2013
Argentina's Fernandez Given Provisional Greenlight to Return to Work
BUENOS AIRES — Argentine President Cristina Fernandez should be able to resume some work after being given a provisional greenlight by doctors, a government spokesman said on Saturday.
Fernandez was given the go-ahead after tests on Friday night, but would not be allowed to travel by airplane for the next 30 days, government spokesman Alfredo Scoccimarro said.
"Doctors have decided to give the neurological all-clear," he said.
"She will be monitored over the weekend, and depending on how that goes, on Monday she will be reevaluated to determine at what pace she can return to her usual routine."
Fernandez had surgery last month to remove blood that had pooled on the surface of her brain after falling and knocking her head.
She will have another scan on December9.
While she has been recuperating, Fernandez's allies faced heavy losses in mid-term elections, shrinking her majority in Congress, and ending chances of a constitutional change to allow her a third term.
Other challenges she faces on her return to work include the threat of fresh protests from farmers who say government policies are killing their profits, and public anger about high inflation, currency controls and rising crime.
Other issues to deal with include ongoing lawsuits in the United States filed by holdout bondholders following Argentina's 2002 sovereign debt default.
(Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by David Brunnstrom)
Croatians to vote on nationwide same-sex marriage ban
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 8, 2013 8:57 EST
Croatian lawmakers voted Friday to hold a referendum on December 1 that would rule out same-sex marriage in the Roman Catholic country, despite strong objections from gay rights activists.
The referendum on whether to amend the country’s constitution to define marriage as a “union between a woman and a man” was called after some 700,000 people signed a petition launched by a conservative group seeking such a nation-wide vote.
The number of people who signed the petition was much higher than required by the law for calling a referendum.
A total of 104 MPs in the 151-seat assembly backed holding of the referendum compared with 13 who voted against. The others were absent or abstained.
Currently there is no definition of marriage in the constitution of the European Union’s newest member state.
Croatia does not allow same-sex marriages, but many conservatives are worried it could become possible after the centre-left government said it was preparing a law that would enable gay and lesbian couples to register as “life partners”.
Zeljko Reiner of the main conservative HDZ party stressed ahead of the parliamentary vote on Friday that “Croatia is a traditional society” and argued that such a consitutional clause was not discriminatory.
“It is simply the question of safety that something… which is a basis of the Croatian society does not change,” he stressed in a reference to heterosexual families.
Gay rights activists have objected to putting the matter to a popular vote, saying it would be discriminatory. They are also asking the country’s top court to review whether such a referendum would even be constitutional.
“This is undoubtedly a human rights issue and as such it cannot be put to a referendum,” prominent gay rights activist Sanja Juras said.
The referendum would be the first citizen-initiated national vote in the country of 4.2 million people since it proclaimed independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
Under Croatian law, a referendum does not require a majority voter turnout to be valid, meaning a small number of voters would be enough to push through an actual ban on gay marriages.
In 2003, Croatia extended to same-sex couples who have lived together for at least three years the same rights as those given to unmarried heterosexual couples, including state recognition of shared assets.
But gay rights are still a sensitive issue in a country where almost 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and where the Church has a strong influence.
Croatia held its first gay pride parade in the capital Zagreb in 2002, when more than a dozen participants were beaten up.
Since then parades have been staged annually without major incidents, though always under heavy security.
Neven Rauk, a 28-year-old unemployed cook, told AFP that “gays here are still afraid to come out”.
“We do change laws, but the mindset of our society changes rather slowly,” said Rauk, who has been a victim of homophobic violence.
He said a referendum “violates the right to be different, my right to equality which is guaranteed by the constitution”.
“We should be all equal before the law. If my same-sex union cannot be called marriage then I’m not equal,” he added.
The Catholic Church-backed group “In the Name of the Family” rebuffs accusations of homophobia, arguing that same-sex marriage is not a human right and accusing “aggressive” gay rights groups of trying to influence society.
A recent survey showed that 54 percent of Croatians support the group’s initiative, compared to 30 percent against.
“We are a traditional country and the voice of the majority should be heard,” said Marija Jankovic, a 40-year-old administrator.
Albania has become Europe’s main marijuana supplier
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 8, 2013 12:37 EST
Every morning, thousands of women, men and children climb a steep road towards an Albanian village almost veiled in white smoke, hoping to get seasonal work in the surrounding fields.
Young and old, from all over the country, they meet shortly after sunrise at the entrance to this mountain-side village, its thick air filled with a stuffy pungent smell.
Welcome to Lazarat, a notorious fiefdom of cannabis production in southern Albania.
International police officials say Albania has become Europe’s main marijuana supplier, much of it coming from Lazarat — whose 2,000 inhabitants, with help from seasonal workers, produce about 900 tonnes of marijuana per year.
That is worth an estimated 4.5 billion euros ($6 billion), nearly a third of the Albanian economy, experts say.
Cannabis is illegal in the Balkan country, but many say the police are unable or unwilling to intervene in lawless Lazaret.
Wary of putting innocents in the crossfire, they have so far launched only minor operations in the village, where armed guards have a history of opening fire to chase off the authorities.
“Criminals use women and children as human shields whenever police want to intervene,” analyst Aleksander Cipa told AFP. “The police retreat to avoid hurting innocent victims.”
‘The law of silence’
Workers don’t need any documents to be hired in Lazaret, sometimes not even a name. It is enough to say where you come from.
Shabby vans and small cars take them for 12-hour shifts, sometimes longer if they want to earn more.
Clouds of white smoke whirl from burnt cannabis stalks discarded alongside the road, plunging the entire village into a drugged torpor.
At the end of the day, crammed into the vans again, many complain of headaches, dry throat, vomiting, their hands and feet trembling.
In recent weeks, at least 700 workers have sought medical help in the nearby town of Gjirokastra.
All the patients had similar symptoms and “serious disorders from cannabis intoxication” clearly related to their work in the Lazarat fields, said Gjirokastra doctor Hysni Luka.
But in Lazarat, no glance, look or word escapes the attention of the field bosses who control the production and harvesting.
“Everyone is responsible for himself! The law of silence rules,” says Genc, a young sturdy man with thick eyebrows in charge of hiring the workers.
Cannabis is the main source of income for Lazarat families. Defending the crop against competitors and possible police action, the villagers often fire Kalashnikovs in the air after night falls and workers leave the fields.
In the courtyard of a farmhouse overlooking the village, surrounded by high concrete walls topped with barbed wire, about 30 people work in silence.
Their job: to peel off buds from dried cannabis plants stored in plastic bags. Only whispers can be heard, sometimes interrupted by a child’s cry of joy or tears.
“One kilo of cannabis heads fetches around 10 euros. You can also be paid by the day, which is 17 euros,” says Lume, a woman in her 60s.
Ola, a three-year-old brown-haired girl, plays with cannabis leaves near her mother, Drita.
“Mum, Mum, look, the bag is full,” she says, glad to help her mother, whose hands are covered with cannabis oil as she peels the plants one after another.
To save money and send more to their families, most workers have settled in abandoned houses on the outskirts of town.
A small portable gas stove, an old armchair and some bags of clothes are the only items in Drita’s small room in an old empty building with broken windows and doors.
This is the temporary home she and her daughter share with at least 30 others.
Hundreds of Roma who also work in the fields have put up a make-shift settlement nearby with no electricity or running water.
Those who manage to earn more can afford housing in Gjirokastra hostels, paying one euro per night in a room for three or four people.
‘Two kilos worth a tonne of wheat’
Despite the harsh conditions, work in the cannabis fields is far more lucrative than legal farming.
“The math is simple: two kilos of cannabis are worth a tonne of wheat,” says 40-year-old Arben with a smile.
Like other Lazaret cannabis producers, he refuses to reveal his last name. But he proudly explains that he buys seeds in Italy or the Netherlands for four to 10 euros, which yields 0.3 to 0.5 kilogrammes to sell.
A kilo fetches 220 to 250 euros in Albania, and sells for 1,000 to 2,000 euros on the European market, he says.
Arben insists that the villagers deal only with production and packing, leaving the trafficking to unnamed “big bosses who control the markets”.
Drug money is laundered in Albania or other Western countries, according to the Albanian anti-money laundering office.
Despite Albania’s role as a major supplier, the authorities seize a relatively tiny amount of cannabis — 10 tonnes last year.
The police have meanwhile struggled to deal with Lazarat.
They recently set up checkpoints on the road into the village and arrested about 50 people suspected of travelling to work in the cannabis fields.
But several days later they took the checkpoints down and traffic returned to normal.
The newly appointed head of the national police, Artan Didi, has called for international help.
“This is a complex issue and requires cooperation between all institutions and international partners, not only the Albanian police,” he said after starting the job last month.
Greece intercepts cargo ship carrying 20,000 AK-47s
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 8, 2013 18:15 EST
The Greek coastguard on Friday intercepted a Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship in the southeastern Aegean Sea with around 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles on board, officials said.
The cargo ship, Nour M, was taken to the island of Rhodes where its Turkish captain and seven crew members were placed under arrest, coastguard sources said.
In a statement, the coastguard said efforts to give a full account of the firearms and ammunition on board the cargo ship were ongoing.
“The exact destination of the arms and ammunition has yet to be verified,” the coastguard statement said.
The state-run Athens News Agency reported that the vessel, which was intercepted near the Greek island of Symi, had set sail from Ukraine and was destined for the Turkish port of Iskenderun.
Aside from the firearms, it was also allegedly carrying a large quantity of explosives, ANA said.
The agency noted that the ports of Tartus in Syria and Tripoli in Libya had also been declared as destination ports to marine traffic systems, while Iskenderun was declared as the destination port by the ship’s captain.
The Nour M is also believed to have been used in the past for drug trafficking, ANA said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
European Union will not remove trade chief caught in tax-fraud case
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 8, 2013 16:45 EST
The European Commission Friday ruled out relieving its trade chief of his responsibilities amid vital negotiations on a deal with the United States, as Belgium took Karel De Gucht to court on tax-fraud charges.
The EU executive said it was treating news of De Gucht’s scheduled court appearance on November 25 as a “private” matter after the former Belgian foreign minister told Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Friday there had been “no wrong-doing”.
On Monday, European Union and United States negotiators resume talks on drawing up the world’s largest free-trade accord, with De Gucht a key player as he has been in deals done or in the works with markets ranging from South Korea to Canada.
Belgian tax authorities are seeking 900,000 euros ($1.2 million) in unpaid taxes, national business dailies reported.
De Gucht has fought since 2005 to prevent tax inspectors from gaining access to his bank records as they home in on gains from the sale of shares in Belgian insurance firm Vista and the purchase of a home in Tuscany, L’Echo and De Tijd said.
Tax authorities accuse De Gucht and his wife of failing to declare a 1.2-million-euro profit on the shares.
The profit was uncovered in 2005 but De Gucht’s lawyer argues that it stemmed from 2001 when it was not liable for tax as the capital gains rules then were different.
Journalists meanwhile pressured the Commission on Friday to explain an apparent contradiction with the treatment of Maltese former health commissioner John Dalli, who was pushed to resign last year amid allegations of links to the tobacco lobby.
But spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen insisted that the De Gucht case was a “longstanding” matter and that “the presumption of innocence applies”.
The case, going back to 2005, or 2001 as his lawyer argues, “concerns issues and periods before he was appointed commissioner,” she said.
Ahrenkilde-Hansen said the case of Dalli was different because he was the subject of an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud unit, OLAF.
“Don’t mix things up — Dalli’s case concerned the functions of the commissioner.
“There’s just no parallel,” she insisted.
A senior Commission source nonetheless told AFP that “the real question today is whether De Gucht’s position remains politically tenable.”
As the EU steels itself for May 2014 European Parliament elections likely to deliver a strong showing for Eurosceptic parties, the case is embarrassing.
Dalli quit in October 2012 after OLAF said a Maltese entrepreneur used his contacts with Dalli to seek a bribe from a Swedish firm in return for changes to draft tobacco legislation.
De Gucht, a member of the Flemish conservative-liberal party Open VLD, was previously accused of insider dealing when selling shares in a Belgian bank just before it was broken up.
But he was cleared under Belgian justice in 2009.
He insinuated then that he had come under attack for “political” reasons.
De Gucht has told Belgian media that he wants to renew his mandate at the Commission at the end of 2014.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
November 8, 2013
Right Wing’s Surge in Europe Has the Establishment Rattled
By ANDREW HIGGINS
HVIDOVRE, Denmark — As right-wing populists surge across Europe, rattling established political parties with their hostility toward immigration, austerity and the European Union, Mikkel Dencker of the Danish People’s Party has found yet another cause to stir public anger: pork meatballs missing from kindergartens.
A member of Denmark’s Parliament and, he hopes, mayor of this commuter-belt town west of Copenhagen, Mr. Dencker is furious that some day care centers have removed meatballs, a staple of traditional Danish cuisine, from their cafeterias in deference to Islamic dietary rules. No matter that only a handful of kindergartens have actually done so. The missing meatballs, he said, are an example of how “Denmark is losing its identity” under pressure from outsiders.
The issue has become a headache for Mayor Helle Adelborg, whose center-left Social Democratic Party has controlled the town council since the 1920s but now faces an uphill struggle before municipal elections on Nov. 19. “It is very easy to exploit such themes to get votes,” she said. “They take a lot of votes from my party. It is unfair.”
It is also Europe’s new reality. All over, established political forces are losing ground to politicians whom they scorn as fear-mongering populists. In France, according to a recent opinion poll, the far-right National Front has become the country’s most popular party. In other countries — Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland and the Netherlands — disruptive upstart groups are on a roll.
This phenomenon alarms not just national leaders but also officials in Brussels who fear that European Parliament elections next May could substantially tip the balance of power toward nationalists and forces intent on halting or reversing integration within the European Union.
“History reminds us that high unemployment and wrong policies like austerity are an extremely poisonous cocktail,” said Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister and a Social Democrat. “Populists are always there. In good times it is not easy for them to get votes, but in these bad times all their arguments, the easy solutions of populism and nationalism, are getting new ears and votes.”
In some ways, this is Europe’s Tea Party moment — a grass-roots insurgency fired by resentment against a political class that many Europeans see as out of touch. The main difference, however, is that Europe’s populists want to strengthen, not shrink, government and see the welfare state as an integral part of their national identities.
The trend in Europe does not signal the return of fascist demons from the 1930s, except in Greece, where the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn has promoted openly racist beliefs, and perhaps in Hungary, where the far-right Jobbik party backs a brand of ethnic nationalism suffused with anti-Semitism.
But the soaring fortunes of groups like the Danish People’s Party, which some popularity polls now rank ahead of the Social Democrats, point to a fundamental political shift toward nativist forces fed by a curious mix of right-wing identity politics and left-wing anxieties about the future of the welfare state.
“This is the new normal,” said Flemming Rose, the foreign editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. “It is a nightmare for traditional political elites and also for Brussels.”
The platform of France’s National Front promotes traditional right-wing causes like law and order and tight controls on immigration but reads in parts like a leftist manifesto. It accuses “big bosses” of promoting open borders so they can import cheap labor to drive down wages. It rails against globalization as a threat to French language and culture, and it opposes any rise in the retirement age or cuts in pensions.
Similarly, in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam leader of the Party for Freedom, has mixed attacks on immigration with promises to defend welfare entitlements. “He is the only one who says we don’t have to cut anything,” said Chris Aalberts, a scholar at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and author of a book based on interviews with Mr. Wilders’s supporters. “This is a popular message.”
Mr. Wilders, who has police protection because of death threats from Muslim extremists, is best known for his attacks on Islam and demands that the Quran be banned. These issues, Mr. Aalberts said, “are not a big vote winner,” but they help set him apart from deeply unpopular centrist politicians who talk mainly about budget cuts. The success of populist parties, Mr. Aalberts added, “is more about the collapse of the center than the attractiveness of the alternatives.”
Pia Kjaersgaard, the pioneer of a trend now being felt across Europe, set up the Danish People’s Party in 1995 and began shaping what critics dismissed as a rabble of misfits and racists into a highly disciplined, effective and even mainstream political force.
Ms. Kjaersgaard, a former social worker who led the party until last year, said she rigorously screened membership lists, weeding out anyone with views that might comfort critics who see her party as extremist. She said she had urged a similar cleansing of the ranks in Sweden’s anti-immigration and anti-Brussels movement, the Swedish Democrats, whose early leaders included a former activist in the Nordic Reich Party.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, has embarked on a similar makeover, rebranding her party as a responsible force untainted by the anti-Semitism and homophobia of its previous leader, her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once described Nazi gas chambers as a “detail of history.” Ms. Le Pen has endorsed several gay activists as candidates for French municipal elections next March.
But a whiff of extremism still lingers, and the Danish People’s Party wants nothing to do with Ms. Le Pen and her followers.
Built on the ruins of a chaotic antitax movement, the Danish People’s Party has evolved into a defender of the welfare state, at least for native Danes. It pioneered “welfare chauvinism,” a cause now embraced by many of Europe’s surging populists, who play on fears that freeloading foreigners are draining pensions and other benefits.
“We always thought the People’s Party was a temporary phenomenon, that they would have their time and then go away,” said Jens Jonatan Steen, a researcher at Cevea, a policy research group affiliated with the Social Democrats. “But they have come to stay.”
“They are politically incorrect and are not accepted by many as part of the mainstream,” he added. “But if you have support from 20 percent of the public, you are mainstream.”
In a recent meeting in the northern Danish town of Skorping, the new leader of the Danish People’s Party, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, criticized Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, of the Social Democrats, whose government is trying to trim the welfare system, and spoke about the need to protect the elderly.
The Danish People’s Party and similar political groups, according to Mr. Rasmussen, the former prime minister, benefit from making promises that they do not have to worry about paying for, allowing them to steal welfare policies previously promoted by the left. “This is a new populism that takes on the coat of Social Democratic policies,” he said.
In Hvidovre, Mr. Dencker, the Danish People’s Party mayoral candidate, wants the government in, not out of, people’s lives. Beyond pushing authorities to make meatballs mandatory in public institutions, he has attacked proposals to cut housekeeping services for the elderly and criticized the mayor for canceling one of the two Christmas trees the city usually puts up each December.
Instead, he says, it should put up five Christmas trees.
Skull marked 'death to paedophiles' among bones found off French Riviera
Police launch murder investigation after bones belonging to at least four people are discovered on sea bed near Antibes
Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 14.37 GMT
The macabre discovery of human bones on the sea bed off the French Riviera, near the millionaires' playground of Antibes, has baffled investigators and prompted a murder inquiry.
The remains, which appear to come from at least four individuals, include a skull on which detectives discovered the faded inscription "death to paedophiles".
Investigators say the remains, discovered by a diver six metres beneath the surface near the foot of a rock cliff at Cap d'Antibes, south-west of Nice, have been in the water for at least a decade.
DNA tests on one of the other bones, a humerus, have revealed the detached upper arm belonged to a 17-year-old Parisien, Stéphane Hirson, who disappeared in 1994.
The remains – a femur, or thigh bone, from a male; one male and one female humerus; a skull and a part of a jaw – were first spotted by a diver looking for sea urchins in February this year.
Specialist police divers then brought them to the surface for examination and tests. Scientists have struggled to obtain genetic material from the bones but say the sections of limb belong to bodies under the age of 30 and the skull from a man under 50.
"We are confronted with a series of enigmas," Georges Gutierrez, the public prosecutor at Grasse, told French journalists on Wednesday as he announced the opening of the inquiry into cases of murder, kidnapping, imprisoning and taking and receiving corpses.
"There are a thousand questions in this case. Why, for example, a single bone for each individual and not other parts of their skeleton?"
Hirson was reported missing in February 1994, days before his 18th birthday. He had been released from a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital and was due to meet a friend when he disappeared without trace.
A family member told French radio the missing youth had "no reason to be in the Côte d'Azur when he had told his mother he was planning to go to Spain".
"The family has no connections in the south-east" of France, she said.
An unnamed source close to the inquiry told Le Parisien newspaper that the skull was also marked with what looked like a shooting target.
"It was in dark ink, but identifying what kind of ink or the handwriting is complicated," said one police officer. "The bones were in a good, well-preserved state and very white."
Gutierrez said tests on the remains were ongoing. "We're hoping the experts will be able to tell us how long they have been in the water," he said.
François Hollande's shaky credibility takes another hit with credit-rating cut
French president was already struggling to sell his economic measures to France before downgrade from Standard & Poor's
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
The Guardian, Friday 8 November 2013 19.15 GMT
France's second credit-rating downgrade by Standard & Poor's in less than two years is as damaging politically for the socialist François Hollande as it was for his rightwing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who lost the election shortly after France lost its AAA rating in January 2012.
S&P directly attacked Hollande's economic policy, questioning the socialist government's capacity to repair Paris's stuttering economic motor. It said the problem with France was that the government's tentative reforms were not enough to lift growth in the eurozone's second largest economy.
Hollande, recently found to be the most unpopular French president on record in a poll by BVA, was already struggling to sell his economic measures to the nation. "The recovery is here," Hollande declared in August after a small rebound in growth following months of stagnation. But real, sustained growth is expected to be slow in returning.
While the government highlights reforms such as injecting more flexibility into the rigid labour market, policies for companies to boost competitiveness and pensions reform, surveys show the electorate is baffled by policy muddles and tax U-turns. Voters are also alarmed by record levels of unemployment and nightly TV news bulletins about factory closures.
The worst of this has come in Brittany in recent weeks. The socialist stronghold, which voted resoundingly for Hollande last year, has now come to symbolise a popular revolt against his economic approach and tax policy.
Brittany is the heartland of France's pork and poultry sectors, which have seen major factory closures. Hard-pressed farmers, fishermen and food industry workers have joined forces to don red bonnets – symbol of a local 17th century tax revolt – and focused their rage on a new eco-tax on lorries thought up under Sarkozy but due to be implemented by Hollande. The tax was duly suspended by a jittery government – its second tax climbdown in a week after it scrapped plans to raise taxes on some savings products amid a public outcry. This month, it also scrapped a new corporate tax that had infuriated business leaders.
Hollande's government is struggling to bring down the public deficit without killing the fragile economic recovery. He has promised to cut state spending without swinging the axe against France's vast public sector and welfare state. He has also promised to improve competitiveness and, most significantly, has vowed to tackle rising unemployment, bringing down levels before the end of this year. All of these have caused economists to cough and splutter about impossible promises.
Unemployment is now at 11%, 3.29m people, a historic high. Hollande has staked his credibility on his promise to halt the rising curve of joblessness by end of this year. But without strong growth, he can only rely on measures such as state-assisted job contracts for the young, which are taking a long time to have an effect.
S&P warned that with joblessness likely to stay high, Hollande will have a difficult job getting more reforms past a distrustful electorate. Hollande's critics say structural reform has not gone nearly deep enough, fearing that one and a half years into a five-year mandate and faced with a tax revolt and tricky municipal elections next spring‚ further reforms will be put on hold. The government is experiencing a growing backlash from voters and businesses after it imposed €30bn in tax hikes this year, seeking to honour a promise to its EU partners to bring its budget deficit below the bloc's target ceiling of 3% next year‚ a target it is still struggling to meet, later than promised. But it is not just the rich who are complaining about taxes, lower-income households also feel they are being targeted. Consumer-spending is low.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, France's prime minister, told the regional press last month: "You can't redress in one and a half years, a country that has been degraded for ten years," a direct jibe at the rightwing governments before him.
The government said S&P had failed to take into account key reforms, such as pensions, and attacked what the finance minister called the ratings agency's "inaccurate criticisms" of the French economy. Hollande has insisted he won't be changing tack on the economy because of S&P's report. But the downgrade leaves him under even more pressure to do more to sell and explain his economic policy to the public on both the left and right.
Fall in UK exports deals blow to George Osborne's rebalancing hopes
Falling exports and rising imports pushed Britain's trade gap for September to £9.8bn, the widest for almost a year
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 15.56 GMT
Britain suffered a drop in exports in September, dealing a blow to the government's hopes to shift the economy away from dependence on squeezed consumers at home.
Falling exports were accompanied by a rise in imports, leaving Britain's trade gap for September at £9.8bn, the widest for almost a year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The widening gap was largely driven by a drop in exports to the European Union alongside a rise in imports from the region that put Britain's EU trade deficit at a record high.
The disappointing numbers prompted a leading business group to accuse the government of doing too little to achieve its economic goals.
David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce said: "The UK is not doing enough to plug the export gap and rebalance our economy towards net exports."
"While our exporters are looking towards faster-growing markets outside the EU, this process must be accelerated. The government can ensure that our global traders can compete on a level playing field with our international competitors. We have long said that more attention and resources need to be allocated towards boosting UK exports, with a strong focus on trade finance, insurance and promotion."
September's trade gap defied City expectations. Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast it would narrow to £9.2bn from £9.6bn in August rather than widen. The figures contrasted with data from Germany that put the trade surplus there at a record high in September as exports rose.
The bigger gap in the UK for September left the less volatile three-month trade deficit at £29.1bn, up from £25.3bn in the second quarter, and meant trade acted as a drag on the economy in the third quarter. The news is a setback for the chancellor, George Osborne, as he vows to rebalance the economy towards more exports.
"An imbalance between domestic and overseas demand continues to characterise the UK economy," said Martin Beck, UK economist at Capital Economics.
"Recent surveys of export orders have been promising. But, for now, the external sector is acting as more of a millstone on the economy than a long hoped-for source of support," he added.
The ONS said total exports decreased by £0.2bn, or 0.7%, in September while total imports increased by £0.1bn, or 0.2%. The pressure on exports came from trade with European Union countries. Exports to those nations were down by £0.3bn, or 2.5%, as the value of goods going to Germany, France, the Netherlands and Ireland all fell.
Over the same period imports of goods from the EU increased by £0.4bn with half of the rise attributed
The UK's exports to non-EU countries fared a little better and increased by £0.1bn, or 1.1%, as demand from China and Saudi Arabia in particular picked up.
Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight said while the pound has strengthened recently it was still at a "pretty competitive level" and exports could grow from here.
"There are grounds for hopes that exports will pick up over the coming months, although it seems improbable that net trade will become a significant overall contributor to UK growth especially as imports are likely to be sucked in by decent domestic demand," he said.
"In particular the prospects for UK exports are being modestly helped by the eurozone finally exiting recession in the second quarter and likely continuing to see slight growth since then."
When taking in the UK's £6.5bn surplus for trade in services, such as legal work and finance, the overall goods and services trade deficit was an estimated £3.3bn in September, unchanged from August.
From the archive: Kristallnacht
Seventy-five years ago the Nazi government unleashed the Kristallnacht pogrom against German Jews
The Guardian, Friday 8 November 2013 20.00 GMT
On the night of 9 November 1938, the Nazi government coordinated a wave of attacks in Germany and Austria, on synagogues, Jewish-owned businesses and homes.
This was Kristallnacht - the night of broken glass. Over two days some 90 Jews were killed in an orgy of violence, while around 30,000 Jewish males were rounded up for deportation to concentration camps. Over 1,000 synagogues were burned or damaged.
The Manchester Guardian's first reports of the pogrom appeared on 11 November 1938.
wrecking The Manchester Guardian, 11 November 1938.
Click to read:http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/11/8/1383904757075/wrecking11nov-001.jpg
The following day, the paper carried a number of reports and pictures about the attacks, including the news that anti-Jew laws were to be introduced in Germany.
Berlin The Manchester Guardian, 12 November 1938.
Click to read: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/sep/09/holocaust-broken-glass-kristallnacht
There was a piece about the 'Aryanisation' of Jewish property as well as a chilling interview with a Manchester woman who had been caught up in the violence and arrests.
Interview The Manchester Guardian, 12 November 1938. Click to read.http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/11/8/1383904603198/eyewit12nov-001.jpg
Joseph Goebbels, the German propaganda minister, did not deny the eyewitness accounts of the attacks, but declared that they were spontaneous manifestations of anger at the murder of a German diplomat by a young Jew. He was referring to Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old who entered the German embassy in Paris on 7 November 1938 and shot Ernst vom Rath, a low ranking official. Reprisals against the Jews began the next day.
Ghettoes The Manchester Guardian, 14 November 1938. Click to readhttp://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/11/8/1383904519245/14nov-001.jpg
The attacks continued, with more arrests and decrees forbidding Jews to engage in retail or export trade. There was widespread condemnation in the British press, while on 15 November, the Guardian noted the political consequences of the persecution including its effect on the policy of appeasement.
The legacy of Kristallnacht was explored by Paul Oestreicher in 2008, while in the same year a huge dumping ground for the destroyed remains of Jewish property was discovered on the outskirts of Berlin. The Night of Broken Glass, a collection of eyewitness accounts, was reviewed in 2012.
Kristallnacht anniversary still haunting for child refugee from Nazi mobs
The horrors of the Nazi pogrom carried out 75 years ago across Germany and Austria retain the power to shock
The Guardian, Friday 8 November 2013 20.00 GMT
One afternoon, five-year-old John Izbicki woke from a nap to find the streets outside his Berlin home curiously quiet and empty. As the trams had stopped and there was no one to be seen, he decided to indulge himself and began skipping down the road with three dangerous words on his lips. "I'm a Jew," he shouted. "I'm a Jew."
The sense of liberation afforded him by what turned out to be an air-raid drill was, he remembers, quite spectacular.
"There was I thinking, as a wee lad, 'This is marvellous – I can now say I'm a Jew without fear'."
Less amused was his father, who rushed out of his haberdashery shop to scoop up his son and ask him if he was trying to get them arrested.
"That," says Izbicki, "was the beginning for me."
Three years later – and 75 years ago tomorrow – Izbicki stood on the balcony of his home on Invalidenstrasse and watched as the pogrom that would come to be known as Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass – gathered its hateful momentum. It was the morning after his eighth birthday and the mob beneath him had turned its attention to the Jewish-owned leatherware shop opposite. Very soon its window, like thousands of others that day and night, had been smashed.
It was the assassination in Paris of a Nazi diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, allegedly by a young German-born Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan, that became the excuse for Kristallnacht. The destructive orgy that ensued left at least 91 Jews murdered, 30,000 arrested, and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed or damaged over the 9 and 10 of November 1938 in co-ordinated attacks against Jews in Germany and Austria.
Izbicki remembers that the violence seemed to particularly delight one old woman who limped past a Jewish-owned shop, screeching: "Dirty Jews! They should kill the lot of you!"
So shrill and so loud were her screams that they brought down a jagged piece of glass that had clung on to the top of the window.
As Izbicki looked on, the falling shard split the old woman's head open, killing her instantly.
"There was blood everywhere and I vomited," he says. "And when I'd finished vomiting, I believed in God."
Izbicki's newfound faith was put to the test a few hours later when a Hitler Youth marching band came to Invalidenstrasse and began throwing bricks at the window of his parents' shop.
Although an acquaintance, who also happened to be a member of the Nazi party, had rung their doorbell at 7.30 that morning and warned them that their business was due to be attacked that evening, Mr and Mrs Izbicki had refused to be intimidated and had gone to work as normal. They did, however, move the goods from the window and put them in the storeroom at the back of the shop.
Izbicki, left in the care of his grandmother, stood on the balcony once again and watched as the Hitler Youth swarmed around the family business.
When the thick, curved glass of the haberdashery windows frustrated their bricks, the teenagers headed for a nearby butcher's and asked him to hand over his heavy weights. As soon as the butcher, who was not Jewish, found out why they wanted the weights, he told them, "in no uncertain terms, to fuck off". They beat him up and took the weights anyway and within minutes, the windows had been smashed.
"I saw them picking up glass and throwing it through the broken window," says Izbicki. "I knew that my parents were in there and I was terrified and I started screaming. And I screamed and screamed and screamed, so much so that it did something to my vocal cords, which I still have today."
Although the police stood by and did nothing, he recalls seeing some of the people in the street crying. Others whistled their disapproval.
After perhaps half an hour, the teenagers marched off to find another target and his parents emerged from the storeroom where they had been hiding.
"Eventually they came back home and gave me a big cuddle. They were in a bad state. Both of them were weeping openly – though they tried to hide their tears from me because it wasn't done to let your son see you cry."
Izbicki, whose voice retains a mild rasp to this day, tried to speak but found he couldn't.
His father managed to escape the subsequent Gestapo sweeps by hiding in a local synagogue that had survived the flames of Kristallnacht. When he came home every couple of days to change his shirt and take a bath, his son would keep watch for Gestapo officers from the balcony.
By the next year, the Izbickis had realised they had to get out. On 1 September 1939, Izbicki and his mother and father caught a train from Berlin to the Netherlands and then took a ferry to Harwich, arriving in England to see the British navy silhouetted against the dark coast. Within two days the country was at war with Germany.
The rest of the family had no such luck: while one of his aunts and her daughter survived because they were Catholics, his grandmother, his two uncles and his other aunt were murdered along with their families in Auschwitz and other camps; his mother's side of the family was completely wiped out.
Izbicki, who went on to spend 23 years as a Daily Telegraph journalist and has written about his life in a memoir entitled Life Between the Lines, tries not to think about Kristallnacht too much.
But each year he finds it hard to unshackle his birthday from the events he witnessed on his Berlin balcony and on Sunday he will speak at a service in Westminster Abbey to mark the 75th anniversary.
While three-quarters of a century has passed since the pogrom, Izbicki fears human nature has changed little over the same interval.
"I'm rather surprised that there is still antisemitism," he says. "At the moment, people seem to be anti- all sorts of other things: anti-Asian; anti-Muslim. Normally one picks on minorities – if it's a minority, you can go against it because they're not going to start defending themselves."
The one thing he simply cannot understand is those who deny the existence of the Holocaust.
"The proof," he says, hoarsely, "is from people like me whose relations have perished."
Antisemitism on the rise, says European survey
Poll of 6,000 Jewish people in eight EU member states finds three-quarters say problem has escalated over last five years
Sam Jones and Rajeev Syal
The Guardian, Friday 8 November 2013 09.30 GMT
A survey of discrimination and hate crimes against Jewish people in Europe, released to mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht (night of broken glass), suggests that antisemitism is on the rise, with three-quarters of those polled reporting an increase in the last five years and growing fears over online abuse and hate speech.
Two-thirds of those polled for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) felt antisemitism was a problem, 76% thought the situation was getting worse and that antisemitism had increased over the last five years, and 46% said they worried about being verbally assaulted or harassed in public because they were Jewish.
A third were worried about being physically attacked, and 57% said they had heard or seen someone claim over the last year that the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated.
Almost 6,000 Jewish people in eight EU member states – Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the UK – took part in the survey. The eight nations are home to 90% of the EU's Jewish population.
The FRA, which provides expert advice to the institutions of the EU and its member states, noted that 75% of respondents felt online antisemitism was a problem, and 73% felt it had increased over the last five years.
"In almost all EU member states included in the survey, antisemitic comments on the internet emerge as an issue of primary importance to the respondents," it said. "These results need to be taken very seriously. They prompt further questions on how to effectively protect fundamental rights in the sphere of the internet while giving due attention to freedom of expression."
It concluded that online antisemitism could be contributing to Jewish people's fears of becoming victims of hate crime.
One British respondent said there was now a "phenomenal" amount of antisemitic material on the internet, adding: "This is in some ways setting us backwards as now young people are circulating content like the [antisemitic hoax] Protocols of the Elders of Zion which had, prior to the internet, pretty much died out."
The report said that although acts of antisemitic violence and vandalism gained political and media attention, Jewish people also faced discrimination in schools and the workplace.
"This should serve as a reminder of the need to address discrimination against Jews – both by ensuring effective implementation of existing laws, as well as ensuring that Jewish people are aware of the relevant protection, redress and support mechanisms and measures designed to assist people who have been discriminated against, such as national equality bodies," it said.
The FRA called on politicians and opinion-makers to refrain from making antisemitic statements and urged them to condemn any such statements when made in public debates.
This week the US and the World Jewish Congress criticised the far-right Hungarian Jobbik party for unveiling a statue of the wartime leader Miklós Horthy, who allied Hungary with Nazi Germany.
John Mann, chair of the UK's all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, said he was shocked by the survey's results. "It is extraordinary that 75 years after the terrible events of Kristallnacht, Jews are again living in fear," he said. "The inaction of the European commission in combating antisemitism is inexcusable."
Mann said the EU had to do more to co-ordinate Holocaust education work and to crack down on online antisemitism. "The internet is a classic EU territory because it crosses borders and the EU could have a huge impact – if it had a thorough approach to antisemitism and other hatred and abuse on the internet," he said.
A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, which monitors antisemitism and provides security for the UK Jewish community, said the research showed that much more needed to be done to protect Jewish people across Europe.
"In some countries, including Britain, politicians and police are trying to deal with the problem, but these efforts are sorely needed everywhere," the spokesman said.
"Jews also require basic anti-racist solidarity in all of this – solidarity that has been partial, or deliberately denied, far too often since the year 2000."
11/08/2013 05:16 PM
EU Study: Jews in Germany Fear Rising Anti-Semitism
By Barbara Hans
A vast survey conducted by the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights and published Friday contains troubling results almost exactly 75 years after Kristallnacht: Jews in Germany and seven other EU countries continue to live in fear of verbal or physical abuse -- whether in public or, increasingly, online.
"I find it almost unbearable that religious services can only take place with police protection."
"Anti-Semitism is one reason for me to leave Germany because I want to protect my family from any danger."
"The anti-Semitic insults I have experienced were not from neo-Nazis or from leftists, but from ordinary people of the political center."
What is it like for Jews to live in Europe? Are they able to practice their religion without restraint? Seventy-five years after the beginning of the Kristallnachtpogrom, also referred to as the "November pogroms," how much harassment, discrimination and hate crime do they encounter?
On Friday, the Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) released a report titled "Discrimination and Hate Crime against Jews in EU Member States: experiences and perceptions of antisemitism." The online survey polled 5,847 self-selected individuals who identified as Jewish in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and the UK, states in which an estimated 90 percent of European Jews live.
Coping with Anti-Semitism
The survey's results provide insight into the perceptions, experiences and self-conception of European Jews. Rather than supplying absolute figures on anti-Semitic attacks, the study focuses on the perceived danger of such attacks and how much the anxiety this causes affects their lives.
Two-thirds of respondents (66%) said that anti-Semitism is a problem in Europe, and over three-quarters (76%) noted that there had been an increase in anti-Semitic hostility in their home countries over the last five years.
Close to half of respondents (46%) are afraid of being verbally attacked or harassed in a public place because they are Jewish, while a third (33%) worry that such attacks could turn physical.
Roughly 50 percent of surveyed parents or grandparents of school-aged children worry that their children could be victims of anti-Semitic verbal insults or harassment at or on the way to or from school if they wore visible Jewish symbols in public.
More than half of respondents (57%) said that, over the last 12 months, they had heard or seen someone claim that the Holocaust was a myth or that it has been exaggerated.
About a quarter (26%) of respondents said that they had experienced some form of anti-Semitic harassment over the previous year, while 4 percent said they had experienced physical violence or threats of attack in the same period.
Almost one-fourth (23%) said they had been discriminated against in the last 12-month period for being Jewish.
Among employed respondents, 11 percent said they are most likely to experience discrimination for being Jewish at the workplace, while 10 percent said this was the case when looking for work.
The study also examined whether these incidents made it into official statistics. The overwhelming majority of respondents (82%) said that they had not reported to any authority or organization "the most serious incident, namely the one that most affected them."
In Germany, the KPMD, a service for registering crimes, has recorded a decline in anti-Semitic crimes since 2009. However, by itself, that says nothing about the perceptions of Jews living in Germany. According to the FRA report, 63 percent of the Jewish respondents in Germany have avoided "wearing, carrying or displaying things that might help people identify them as Jews in public," such as a skullcap (kippa). Likewise, 25 percent of them claimed to have considered emigrating from Germany in the last five years because they don't feel safe there.
When it comes to the relative seriousness of anti-Semitism, Germany was the only country in which a majority (61%) of respondents said it was the greatest problem. Respondents from the other seven countries believed that unemployment was the most pressing issue.
Blamed for Israeli Policies
In the report, FRA states that a survey it published in 2012 had "found evidence suggesting that events in the Middle East can act as a trigger for translating anti-Israel sentiment into antisemitic sentiment targeting Jewish populations as a whole." For the poll published Friday, 49 percent of respondents in Germany claimed to have heard or seen non-Jewish people suggest that Israelis behave "like Nazis" toward the Palestinians. The study's results seem to suggest that German Jews are viewed as proxies of the state of Israel and its policies. Indeed, it found that 81 percent of them have felt accused of or blamed for something the Israeli government had done. Moreover, it noted a close coincidence between when trouble flares up in the Middle East and when Jews in Germany perceive rising hostility.
"One reason (not the only one!) for the latent anti-Semitism is the open conflict between Israel and Palestine and other neighboring Arab countries. A peaceful solution to this conflict would also reduce the ground for anti-Semitism in other countries."
The study also found that respondents claimed that they had been increasingly exposed to negative statements about Jews online, including on blogs and social-networking sites. Three-quarters (75%) of all respondents in the eight countries identified the Internet as "the most common forum for negative statements" and a place where such statements could be made with virtual impunity. This was particularly true for respondents between the ages of 16 and 29, of whom 88 percent said that they saw or heard negative comments about Jews online.
Worries about suffering verbal or physical attacks, the study notes, have been found to have negative effects on physical, social and emotional well-being by prompting people to restrict their movements or activities. Almost a quarter (23%) of respondents claimed to avoid visiting Jewish events, sites or parts of their neighborhoods because they don't feel safe there or on the way there owing to their Jewish identity.
The survey also found that Jews living in Germany were particularly concerned with two issues that have sparked much debate in recent years: the prohibition of circumcision (brit mila) and traditional Jewish rituals associated with slaughtering animals (shechita). Almost three-quarters (71%) said that banning circumcision would be a "very big" or "fairly big" problem for them, while half (50%) held the same view regarding prohibitions on traditional slaughter.
"I will wait for the developments concerning a statutory regulation on the Brit Mila. This will be crucial for my decision on whether or not to leave Germany."
* The quotations in italics are statements made by Jews living in German who responded to the survey online. Translations are taken directly from the report.
Let Kristallnacht be a reminder of the threat of racism and fascism
The Guardian, Friday 8 November 2013 21.00 GMT
On 9-10 November 1938, Nazi stormtroopers led a wave of violent attacks on Jewish people and property throughout Germany and Austria, which the Nazis had annexed. During these pogroms, 91 Jews were killed, thousands were taken from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps, 267 synagogues were destroyed, and some 7,500 Jewish-owned shops were smashed and looted. The Kristallnacht pogroms presaged attempts to remove Jews from German life completely.
Many Jews left hurriedly to seek refuge in friendly countries, including Britain, but Britain was already in the grip of an "aliens scare". Newspaper headlines declared: "Alien Jews pouring in", and claimed that "Refugees get jobs, Britons get dole". The media accused Jewish asylum seekers of "overrunning the country". Despite wide public revulsion at the violence of Kristallnacht, powerful elements in British politics and business continued to admire Hitler and the Nazi regime.
Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht, racists and fascists inspired by the Nazis continue to attack minorities in Europe. In Hungary neo-fascists target Gypsies and Jews. In Greece Golden Dawn members and supporters brutally attack migrants and political opponents. Here in Britain, minority communities, especially Muslims, have been targeted in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile towards migrants and refugees.
Mindful of this history, we are equally alarmed at continuing fascist violence and the toxic sentiments expressed by many politicians and much of the media against migrants, asylum seekers, Gypsies and Travellers. We stand shoulder to shoulder with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their efforts to live here in freedom and safety, to contribute to society and be treated as equals. As Jews we stand together with all communities seeking to combat racism and fascism here and elsewhere.
David Rosenberg Jewish Socialist magazine
Emeritus professor Frank Land 1939 refugee and Kristallnacht witness
Ralph Land Kristallnacht witness
Lord (Alf) Dubs
Margaret Hodge MP
David Winnick MP
Edie Friedman Executive director, Jewish Council for Racial Equality
Gerry Gable Editor, Searchlight magazine
Rabbi Barbara Borts
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah
Rabbi Howard Cooper
Dr Ros Merkin Writer & director, Suitcase 1938
Sheila Melzak Clinical director, Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile
Dr Jennifer Langer Director, Exiled Writers Ink
Judge Laurence Brass Treasurer, Board of Deputies of British Jews
Bernard Kops Playwright and poet
Michael Rosen Broadcaster and poet
Rome mayor attacks alleged €70m fake bus and metro tickets scam
Italian city's transit managers are using proceeds to bankroll political parties that appoint them, newspaper claims
Tom Kington in Rome
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 16.52 GMT
The mayor of Rome has described the city's bus and underground managers as "worse than the mafia", after they were accused of selling €70m worth of fake tickets a year to bankroll the political parties that appointed them.
The city's transit system – which carries a billion passengers a year – officially earns €249m from fares a year, but makes a €150m loss. An internal report obtained by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica makes claims that staff operated a secret centre where tickets were cloned for sale with the proceeds kept off the books.
The alleged scam was underway under Rome's former centre-left city government and continued when the centre-right mayor Gianni Alemann took over in 2008, with proceeds going into the coffers of functionaries from both the People of Freedom and Democratic parties, La Repubblica claimed.
Alemanno lost this year mayoral election to Ignazio Marino. The reformist mayor is said to be furious, calling the alleged scandal "a knife in the back of the city", and adding: "I will react with a scythe, heads will roll, I guarantee it."
The transit system's woes have been compounded by the system under which Romans must buy their tickets before they board buses and need not show them to the driver. Many simply ride for free, hoping inspectors will not get on.
Marino complained that the city had hired too many administrators and too few inspectors, meaning the ratio between passengers and fares paid was among the lowest in Europe.
A spokesperson for the European Association of Consumers preferred to keep the focus on the bus company's ticket fraud, and demanded Rome reversed a 50 cents price rise, that took cost to €1.50, and that the network's entire management were sacked.
In an ironic protest on Friday, Rome students handed out fake bus tickets at bus stops in the city.